COPD Lexicon: Oxygen Terms To Know

Last updated: May 2018

Your doctor may use a lot of specific terms or jargon when referring to COPD or other lung diseases. By using these terms they are not trying to confuse you. What they are doing is using medical language, which can help convey precision in the healthcare industry. So, to better understand your doctor, it’s helpful to understand some of the terms they use.

Here are terms doctors often use when referring to oxygen and oxygen levels.

Oxygen. It’s a molecule used by cells to make energy. It is a component of the air around you, so it is also a gas. It enters your lungs when you inhale. It then enters your bloodstream and is sent to the various tissues of your body. It’s used to create energy needed for cells to do their respective jobs. It is essential for life.

Hypoxemia. It’s a low blood oxygen level. Your lungs are not allowing enough oxygen to get into your bloodstream.

Hypoxia. It’s a low tissue oxygen levels. Not enough oxygen is getting to your tissues and cells.

Cyanosis. It’s a bluish tint of skin due to low oxygen levels. When your oxygen levels are low, blood is sent to vital organs like your lungs, heart, and brain.

Acrocyanosis. Cyanosis of lips, fingertips, and feet.

Peripheral cyanosis. Another term for acrocyanosis.

Pulse Oximeter. It’s a small device that goes over your fingertip or earlobe. It measures how much of the oxygen you inhale gets into your bloodstream. It’s a noninvasive device.

Non-invasive. It means that it’s not painful. For example, taking your temperature is non-invasive.

Pulse Ox. It’s another term often used to refer to a pulse oximeter.

Oxygen Saturation. It’s a percentage of the amount of oxygen inhaled that gets into your bloodstream. Normal is 98%. A percentage of 90% or better is considered acceptable. For some people with COPD, 88% is acceptable. Your doctor can help you determine what is normal for you.

Saturation. Another term for oxygen saturation.

Arterial Blood Gas (ABG). It’s an invasive test to measure gases in your blood. These gases include oxygen (PaO2) and carbon dioxide (PaCO2).

Carbon dioxide (CO2). It’s a waste product produced during cellular respiration.

Cellular respiration. It’s a complicated process. It’s when oxygen is used by cells to make energy.

Hypercapnia. It’s when CO2 levels in your blood are higher than normal.

Hypercarbia. It’s another term for hypercapnia.

Nasal Cannula. A small device that fits into your nostrils so you can inhale supplemental oxygen. This is the most common device used by COPDers.

Supplemental oxygen. It’s when you inhale more oxygen than what’s in room air. It’s needed when your lungs aren’t able to get enough oxygen into your bloodstream.

Oxygen masks. It’s a mask that fits over your face to allow you to inhale supplemental oxygen. There are different kinds of masks available. They are rarely used by COPDers at home. But, they are available when needed in hospitals.

Ventilate. It’s when you inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide.

Oxygenate. It’s when you supply your body with oxygen. To use it in a sentence: “To adequately oxygenate your body, you may need supplemental oxygen.”

Oxygen tanks. They contain compressed oxygen. They contain a limited amount of oxygen, so they you will have to change tanks every so often.

Oxygen concentrator. A device that makes oxygen out of room air. Most run on electricity.

These are basic oxygen-related terms doctors use. Knowing their definitions should better help you understand doctor language. For more detail into these terms, check out my post, "Supplemental Oxygen And Oxygen Levels." If you can think of more oxygen-related terms use, let us know in the comments below.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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